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      No amount of training can prepare you for the devastation of Turkey, says a firefighter

      ByMonelo Gabriel

      Feb 14, 2023

      One firefighter has said “no amount of training” could have prepared her for the devastation she witnessed in earthquake-hit Turkey.

      Emma Atcherley, from Bedwas, near Caerphilly, South Wales, described the “rollercoaster” of emotions of working in a disaster zone: from saving a 90-year-old woman from rubble to seeing dead bodies piled up on the side of the road. .

      Ms Atcherley, 42, was one of 77 search and rescue specialists from 14 fire and rescue services across the UK who were deployed to the country through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in response to last week’s earthquakes.

      Having served with the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service for 19 years, this is his first deployment with the UK International Search and Rescue (UK-ISAR) team.

      But he said the scale of the destruction had shocked even the most experienced firefighters, who had worked on various disasters over the years.

      “Turkey is my first deployment with UK-ISAR and no amount of training could prepare you for how difficult life on the ground is,” he said.

      “Anything we work on that is fairly true to life is made safe before we train on it, whereas here we were breaking into unsafe buildings and tunneling without really knowing when the next aftershock might hit.

      search and rescue team
      Emma Atcherley with her colleagues from the UK search and rescue team in Turkey (FCDO/PA)

      “That level of anxiety that you just can’t prepare for.

      “Nor the level of intensity, because you constantly feel like you are on a stopwatch and against the clock.

      “You have such a limited window to make a real difference and get people out alive.”

      Ms Atcherley was part of the team that on Saturday extricated two survivors who had been trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building for 120 hours.

      She was also involved in taking out a 90-year-old woman on the first day of the UK team in Turkey, and another man the next day.

      The specialists have been working in Antakya, in the province of Hatay, since last Tuesday, after being scrambled by the UK government.

      She said: “It’s so good when you take someone out.

      “The reaction of families when we have saved lives has been very moving, to see their relief and to know that we have changed someone’s life.

      Turkey earthquake
      Emma Atcherley rescuing a man whose legs were trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building (FCDO/PA)

      “Generations of families will be around now because of some of those rescues.”

      “I don’t think I’ve cried yet, but throughout the day you go to a job site and you’re up and you’re down. It’s a bit of a roller coaster,” she added.

      “The worst moments have been seeing the deceased being pulled out of the rubble.

      “Many of the local crews have been working with bulldozers and have been pulling the dead out of the rubble.

      “Seeing them piled up on the side of the road and families grieving, that’s hard. It’s so sad.

      “Also giving people bad news that there is nothing we can do after we haven’t detected any signs of life, those are the worst times.

      “Outside most of the collapsed buildings, there are family members sitting waiting, which is quite hard to see with that level of suffering.

      “They want us to get their loved ones out alive or dead.

      “We are a live rescue team, so we have had to explain that we can’t do anything if we can’t find signs of life, which is really difficult.

      Turkey earthquake
      The specialists deployed by the United Kingdom Government have been working since last Tuesday to free the survivors (FCDO/PA)

      “Unfortunately, there are more lows than highs.”

      The mother-of-two said she is looking forward to an emotional reunion with her husband Leon and their daughters Florence, 10, and Martha, eight.

      She said: “I’m not sure how much my children understand what’s going on. I know they watch Newsround at school, so they must have seen something.

      “I also know that his teacher talked a bit about me as part of the UK government response and what the team was doing.

      “I know the kids are very proud of me, but they don’t like me leaving and they weren’t happy that I was leaving. Every time I’ve talked to them it’s been very much ‘When are you coming home?’

      “I’m sure there will be a lot of screaming and tears if I manage to pick them up from school when I get back.”

      The British people have donated more than £60 million to the DEC Appeal for Turkey and Syria in its first two days, including £5 million from the UK government in matching funds.

      With more than 36,000 dead, the UK government has worked with the Turkish authorities to deploy the UK Emergency Medical Team (UK-EMT) to Turkoglu in eastern Turkey to provide vital care.

      International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said: “This would not have been possible without the kindness and support of the British people. Thank you.”


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